Millennial students worry about the gender gap and career uncertainty

A survey of students in the UK and Ireland reveals students’ concerns about the impact of their gender on career prospects and shows there is general confusion about work opportunities.

April 21 2016
Students on campus

More than half of UK millennial students – so-called Generation Z – are uncertain about their post-university plans, with many choosing further study over paid work.

Worryingly, women are additionally nervous about the impact of their gender on their future careers and salaries, despite generally feeling confident in their own ability to succeed.

The findings were revealed in a Think Future Study survey of 20,652 students in the UK and Ireland, 82 per cent of whom were full-time undergraduates.

Almost all students surveyed (93 per cent) expressed a desire to do work that makes a difference, and 72 per cent said that they wanted to earn a high salary. But 57 per cent did not have a concrete idea of their plans for after graduation.

Helena Eccles, an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge and founder of the survey, said: “This group of students, to which I belong, have different demands from employers; doing meaningful work with social impact is the top priority. In this turbulent time when we are faced with personal financial insecurity and broader economic instability, we need to be supported in navigating the working world.”

The authors of the survey suggest that students’ lack of clarity about opportunities in the graduate job market is one reason why continued study and academia/teaching are the most popular post-graduation options, chosen by 28 and 27 per cent of students respectively.

Other suggested reasons for the popularity of academia include widespread belief that a master’s degree is necessary for a meaningful job, and the influence of professional academics giving career advice.

For women, the confusion around career options combines with nervousness that their gender will have a bearing on future careers and pay cheques. Only 42 per cent of women were confident that their gender would have no impact on their career, compared with 72 per cent of men, and only 43 per cent of women were confident that their gender would not affect their pay, compared with 73 per cent of men.

Socio-economic background also affects students’ considerations about their post-university options. Students whose parents did not go to university are three times more likely than their peers to have not yet considered any particular career options.

Among those who had considered what they wanted to do after university, retail work was the most popular option for first-generation students, while continued study was the most popular option for students whose parents had been to university.

Off the back of the results, the survey authors, including the vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, Janet Beer, and the vice-chairman of KPMG LLP, Melanie Richards, advise current students that it’s OK to make a career decision even without complete certainty. 

They write: “Don’t be afraid to make a career decision – you can always change your mind later. Get started on the career path and find out along the way with exposure and experience what you really want to do.”

Reader's comments (1)

It's sad that nowadays young women have to feel so insecure about career future. I hope that stress about the impact of gender on someone's future would seem a nonsense in a few decades, but right now they are simply being realistic. Still, it's very important to stay optimistic when it comes to things of such importance. Glad to hear about demand for work with social impact. Thank you for this article, Carly!

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